This January 2009 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.
Aircraft: Piper Cherokee. Injuries: 1 Fatal, 2 Serious. Location: Indiana, Pa. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The 113-hour pilot called the airport earlier in the day to inquire about the weather. After being told the weather “wasn’t too bad,” he requested the airplane be fueled, then drove to the airport with the two passengers. They observed the poor weather conditions on their way to the field, which led to a discussion about postponing the flight for another day. They arrived at the airport with the intent to simply pay for the fuel and leave. One of the passengers asked if “a go in the pattern was possible.” The pilot agreed, although he stated that it was against his better judgment. The weather at the airport had been deteriorating all day.
The pilot was not instrument rated and the airplane was not equipped for instrument flight. The pilot told investigators that the weather wasn’t too bad at takeoff but, by the time darkness fell ,the runway was obscured by fog and instrument conditions prevailed. When they returned to the airport for landing, the pilot couldn’t see the runway because of the fog. He radioed the airport FBO and repeatedly asked whether the line services personnel could see the airplane, and if it was over the runway. A line service employee stated that he was in radio contact with the pilot during at least five attempted approaches to runway 28. The line service person advised the pilot to climb, declare an emergency, and contact ATC for assistance. The pilot did not heed this advice. After the fifth approach the pilot stated that he could see the lights on the runway and noted that most of the runway was now behind the airplane. The pilot elected to make one more attempt to land and initiated a go-around. The airplane crashed into trees alongside the runway during the attempt.
Probable cause: The pilot’s decision to attempt VFR flight in IMC conditions, resulting in a collision with trees during a go-around.
For more information: NTSB.gov